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Burlington City Council reviews redistricting, charter change language and its TIF district at latest meeting

Burlington City Hall
Burlington City Hall

The Burlington, Vermont City Council reviewed redistricting and charter changes on Monday.

The agenda for the meeting included an update on a Crisis Response Team and the second public hearing on charter change questions that will appear on the March 7th Town Meeting Day ballot.

City leaders continued to struggle with redistricting maps as a deadline to finalize them for the Town Meeting Day ballot looms. Despite a vote to approve maps in December, councilors were still considering new maps. Ward 8 resident Maddie Posig urged them to stay with their earlier decision.

“With the map that you adopted in December no ward had more than 50 percent population of on-campus students. I am asking you to not repeat the mistake tonight that was made ten years ago and please vote for the map that you already approved. It is the fairest compromise for all eight wards.”

During their January 17th public hearing on redistricting, councilors requested the independent mapping specialist to review and analyze a new map proposal. A presentation offered three new maps. City Council President Ward 6 Democrat Karen Paul:

“This is the last possible council meeting that we can vote on this. Anything further than this would necessitate a special meeting next week. The wording of the ballots must be delivered by February 1st. So this is our last meeting to be making this decision.”

Ward 1 Progressive Zoraya Hightower had been discouraged by the originally approved map.

“I’m happy to see three maps that I at least wouldn’t ardently fight against in terms of at least accomplishing some of the goals that we set out. These are inoffensive maps.”

But North District Independent Mark Barlow disagreed.

“I’m extremely uncomfortable making significant changes to the maps after all the public process we have put into arriving at the approved map. My preference would be to stick with the approved map.”

Councilors passed the revised map on an 8 to 3 vote.

Approval of concise ballot language for charter change ballot questions was also debated. One is a lengthy citizen petition to create a police Community Control Board. Ward 2 Progressive Gene Bergman was among councilors who felt the language should remain intact.

“There’s a lot in the proposal and it’s all important. It does not do the service of a short form.”

The council also heard a report and received a request to approve an application to Vermont Economic Progress Council for the Burlington Waterfront Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district for public improvement financing related to the downtown CityPlace development project.

The discussion became intertwined with concerns over an auditissued by the Vermont State Auditor on January 20th that found the city’s waterfront TIF district must repay $1.2 million and owes the state education fund $197,510 due to numerous errors.

Democratic Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said the city disagrees with the audit.

“Our main objection is that the auditor characterized what has happened there as errors by the city when in fact the discrepancies are largely due to the state’s software and the way that interacts with the city’s property tax system. And there’s been an effort to work with the state and the private contractor that’s responsible for the software to get these ironed out.”

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